YOKOTE, Akita Pref. (Kyodo) In a unique effort to reduce welfare costs, the municipal government of Yokote, Akita Prefecture, has designated a number of meeting halls and health-promotion facilities as “health stations” aimed at improving the physical fitness of its citizens.

The idea is to make health facilities like train stations — places where anyone can stop by and get help in avoiding the illnesses and disabilities often associated with old age.

The city has at least two large-scale stations that serve as training centers for residents who want to build up their strength, and three smaller venues where residents can check their blood pressure and exercise.

Nine municipalities nationwide, including Yokote, are cooperating to promote the health station concept, which was first proposed by municipal leaders in 2003. The others are in Ibaraki, Saitama, Niigata, Fukui, Aichi, Kyoto and Kagoshima prefectures.

Yokote launched the health station project in fiscal 2004 to promote physical fitness of all its residents, including children and the elderly.

With the snow falling gently outside, a group of elderly residents tramped to one of Yokote’s health stations for their weekly regimen.

In one exercise, marks were set 3 meters from where they sat. The participants ran around the marks and sat down again. The goal was to complete the circuit in five to six seconds.

“I feel I can move my body more lightly since I started coming here,” said Kunichi Kamata, 68.

The city’s physical fitness instructor, Manabu Sato, 35, said he tells participants not to force themselves but rather to exercise “within the range of . . . enjoyment,” and to use balls and beanbags as part of their routine.

Retired nurses are at the smaller stations to offer advice and check blood pressure.

Health advisers and physical therapists are assigned to the larger stations and offer a variety of classes. There is also a nursery so mothers can work out.

The Regional Exchange Center of Tokyo, a nonprofit organization, is working to set up a network to promote the health station concept. Center representative Eiji Tanaka said health stations “are places people can visit so that they may not need to go to the hospital” later.

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